Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taking Time Off-A Leadership Issue and a Tipsheet

It's the beginning of the summer in the northern hemisphere.  It's the time when many schools are in recess and workers begin to schedule their vacations.   A recent article on the benefits of taking time off caught my eye.  At one end of the spectrum the article highlights the fact that the US is the only developed country in the world with no laws that mandate a minimum number of paid vacation days for each employee.  The article also highlights an innovative approach of one Canadian health care organisation.  You can find it at this link.   In the Canadian case, the almost unthinkable idea of unlimited paid vacation time for staff has been successfully implemented.  I'm also including a link to a BBC produced tool that allows you to compare working hours among countries considered to be in the "developed world" by the OECD.  BBC tool link is here.

It's fairly easy to conclude that more hours worked lead to less productive, less healthy work force.  It's also clear there are huge differences among countries which produces a challenge for the leader of a global activity.  Here are some tips to address that challenge.

Be Clear About Your Expectations.  As you can see from the BBC tool, in many countries longer working hours are a measure of a good employee.  Be clear that you expect staff to take their allotted vacation so both in writing and verbally. 

Make it Part of the Performance Conversation with Your Direct Reports.  "Have you taken all your vacation time yet?  When do you plan to do so?"  These questions in performance conversations let staff know you are serious about it.

Set the Example-  Setting the example is always a good leadership practice and it is especially important in this area. There is no question a global leadership role can be a grind.  With early morning and late night teleconferences and webcasts to accommodate multiple time zones it's easy to slip into 14 hour work days and doing catch up work on weekends.  If you say taking time off is important and then don't take it yourself no one believes you really mean it.

Unplug When You Take Time Off-  This is especially important in today's 24/7 wired world.  Early in one of my global leadership roles, I continued to stay connected, monitored email and made comment on what I thought were important issues.  A trusted colleague, a woman from another country who worked for me, gave me feedback.  "Please don't do that. When you do, you are telling me you expect me to do so when I take time off, and I need to disconnect and clear my head".  Great advice.

Don't Reward Overwork.    When it comes to performance appraisal, promotion and bonus decisions be cautious about rewarding those who put in long hours.  It's not easy.  Some people who work long hours often get more done on sheer volume alone.  I never went so far as to penalize someone for excessive working hours but I did have a case where I told someone "your reward would have been  greater if you'd set a better example in how you completed your work".

Take a Cue From Your European Colleagues.    "Holiday time" has long been more sacrosanct in Europe than elsewhere.  The EU mandate on minimum vacation time helps but those cultural traditions long preceeded the mandate. My EU based colleagues were well ahead of the rest of us on this issue.

Synchronize Time Off Among the Leadership Team.  Everyone can't be off at the same time.  Make sure you've got "coverage", and it's clear who has authorities to act and take decisons in your absence....and let them take decisions. It's good leader development practice to "sit in the chair" and be accountable for the decision 


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